Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Home > Spotlights > Undergraduate Student Spotlights > Senior Design Projects: A Fitting Capstone to Four Years

Senior Design Projects: A Fitting Capstone to Four Years

AUTHOR: Nina Welding

PUBLISHED: May 10, 2017

From the rigorous coursework involved with his major [aerospace engineering] to fitting other activities into his busy schedule, Michael Thompson has faced a lot of challenges during his time at Notre Dame. “Engineering students work hard. It might look easier for us because one of the first, and most important things, we learn is how to take a difficult problem and break it down into solvable pieces.”

For Thompson, those pieces included being a member of Liturgical Choir, playing interhall and intramural sports, undergraduate research, an internship at SpaceX, and using his helicopter pilot’s license every chance he could. His schedule has been so full that it seems inconceivable he’d still have time to study and prepare for the next step — graduate school for a degree in autonomous aerospace systems.

According to Thompson, although engineering is a lot of work, faculty are always accessible and willing to help. He says, “You also have a lot of fun and make a lot of friends because fellow students encourage one another rather than compete against each other, even in the senior design courses.”

All seniors in the College of Engineering are required to complete a capstone project. It’s a different challenge in each department, but all projects start from the ground up.

The Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering takes that phrase literally. Its aerospace majors must design, build, and test a radio-controlled aircraft using the skills they have learned. For example, the aircraft student teams create must carry a specific payload, take-off on grass in no more than 300 ft., and return and land safely. All planes must also feature a fixed main wing, house an electric motor powered by a battery power pack, and include an internal cargo (an onboard microprocessor and digital radio control system with up to seven channels). Once in the air their plane must maintain velocity at a constant altitude and change altitude over a 100 ft. climb — all while transmitting data from the plane to a laptop on the ground, which analyzes flight performance. Not at all an easy “A.”

Editor's Note: Michael Thompson was one of the recipients of the 2017 Reverend Thomas A. Steiner Award, recognized for his all-around excellence as an undergraduate and his commitment to engineering and the common good. He will be pursuing graduate studies in aerospace engineering at Stanford University this fall.